Howl from a survivor: ‘Medicalised psychiatry is a failed entity’

“I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness” Allan Ginsberg Howl

We are not mad. It is the rest of society that is the problem. Society cannot handle the truth. We, the mad, (and I say that with pride), are the truth seekers. We see with clarity.

So this is my story, my truth.

Where do you begin?

Galway in the grey rainy 1980s. Primary school is going swimmingly well. There is of course a dark lining on your silver cloud. Maths. That loathsome, tiresome subject. Numbers it would appear, is your Achilles Heel.

Turns out you are more of a words guy. Today they call it Dyscalculia – a maths learning disability, literal translation “to count badly” from Greek. In the rainy grey 1980s they did not know this; of this learning disability. 

You are labelled stupid, slow, a dullard. This was acceptable in the 80s.

The strain of this disability accrues in you. Your 12-year-old self reaches a crescendo of stress. You tick, you twitch, you grunt vocal tics. You are a pressure cooker. They call it hyperactivity. Medicate him, they say.

As you now know Maths learning difficulty = stress = hyperactivity, cause and effect. They do not know this in the grey rainy 80s.

So they medicate you. Sernace, haldoperidol, haldol – the beast has many names. They don’t tell your parents it is a schizophrenia drug. You are not schizoid. You are perhaps a little stressed. End of. Off label uses and all that.

They don’t tell your parents about the lowered dopamine levels, about depression, about side effects.

The Great Depression begins.

September, 1989, secondary school begins. As the walls tumble across Europe a chemical wall is erected around your brain. Checkpoint Charlie is closed.

Secondary school becomes a world of academic collapse. 13-year old you cannot write a cogent sentence thanks to med-induced brain fog. They label you retarded. Nobody thinks that haldol can have side effects.

It is Thalidomide for the brain, stunted, and ungrowing. Your hyperactivity stops, but, then, so does everything else. Funny thing, side effects.

Your academic grades plunge quickly, a terminal velocity of failure.

Self- esteem plunges like a stockbroker off a Wall Street skyscraper in ’29. 

It truly is the Great Depression.

Some years pass. In 1992, you sit your Junior Certificate, about halfway through secondary school. You fail everything. You even fail foundation level maths. Funny thing, these side effects.

A penny drops somewhere, you are sent for psychiatric assessment. You are diagnosed with dyscalculia. You can’t do maths. They now know this in the 1990s. You are given leave from maths as a school subject. Subject waiver they call it. Farewell calculus, so long algebra, au revoir integers, kiss my ass log tables. The boil is lanced.

Sometime later they take you off haldol and the depression ends. One moves toward academic success – cause and effect.

The sunlit uplands of hope lie before you. You begin to aspire to success, of a life after school – an optimistic life. There is of course a sting in the tale.

In ancient Greek Tragedy there is a word for it – Hamartia.

Hamartia translates as the hero or protagonist’s fatal flaw, which leads to his downfall.

Your Hamartia is of course maths. They tell you that you may not apply for university. It is a shock, a post traumatic shock. Maths is the rubicon you shall not pass.

PTSD kicks in – maths, your old nemesis has its vengeance.

The real depression begins. You go and screw up your Leaving Cert, a bleak despair ensnares you. Given a little time, you could have transcended this moment in time, this gap between stimulus and response.

They don’t give you time, they medicate you. “A chemical imbalance” the shrink says. Want to go into journalism you tell him. “Don’t get notions above your station in this life” says the doctor. He actually says this. Demeaned is too small a word for how this makes you feel, but it shall suffice. This was acceptable in the 1990s.

It is 1995 and your life sentence under psychiatric drugs, under antidepressants, under the chemical cosh has just begun. Haldol it seems was simply a form of juvenile detention, a sort of borstal for the unquiet self.

He prescribes you three (YES, FUCKING THREE ANTIDEPRESSANTS!). Just in case you missed, the capital letters and the expletive, three anti-d’s – not one, like in a normal branch of medicine. Co-prescription they call it, also known as polypharma. In the pharmaceutical industry it’s called profit.

Gamanail, olanzapine, sertraline – TCA’s, SSRI’s, an alphabet soup of pharmaco-chemicals.

You are 19 years old. You don’t know it yet, but this will last for another 25 years. A quarter century. Add in the haldol from the 1980’s, it is about two thirds of your life. 

Still, shouldn’t grumble.

You enter this pharmaceutical prison, a callow 19-year old youth. You leave it as a middle aged man. 

Cold, withered years lie ahead, ‘burnt out ends of smoky days, cold stale smell of morning’. T.S. Elliot wrote that in The Wasteland.

Wasteland just about nails it. The current psychiatric model is just that – a wasteland. Waste our lives, burgle the bank of our youth.

Deaden us, mute our minds. Unsex us, numb our brains. 

Hollow us out, us the mad “the best minds of our generation destroyed by madness” in the words of Allan Ginsburg.

Allan Ginsburg, Ezra Pound, EE Cummings, James Joyce, John McGahern, Alexander Soylzin (do you mean Alexander Solzhenitsyn?); those of us who dare dissent, who do not presume to fit a pattern. We, the fly in society’s self-satisfied ointment.

That ointment is an unguent of bullshit and hypocrisy.  

But we, the unsane, the mad, shall not be as mad as you, the so called sane who are left shall go mad,

And yes the years shall wither you and the years shall condemn you, the so called sane, the self righteous and the smug,

In the morning we the mad, shall remember our mad we have lost,

And at the going down of the sun, we shall remember them.

We, who have been condemned to this life, have a duty to speak of the strange and frightening side effects. 

Who among us will speak of the horrid insane lusts of psycho-meds; the bizarre interest you develop in unholy and unclean pornography.

Your medications give you these urges. You tell your psychiatrist this but he doesn’t believe you, wants to prescribe you more and more and more.

They don’t tell you these are the same medications they use to treat paedophiles, to castrate them to control their urges.

Funny thing, side effects. They give you strange proclivities.

You are not a paedophile.

The gamanail or olanzipine or sertraline or whatever (and God knows they are all the same) give you these urges, unholy and unnatural.

It is called paraphilia- that is you have an interest, but you don’t act on them.

Otherwise, you wouldn’t be writing this!

Know this: certain prescription psychiatric medications, commonly prescribed, can in certain proportions cause unnatural sexual proclivities. End of.

But they don’t tell you about these side effects.

This must be made known as a matter of urgent public interest.

Some researchers in Germany have looked into this – google paraphilia anti-depressants. Our old friend cause and effect.

One could go on and on, but here we will stop.

Here is what you will do, on this road less travelled.

You have a novel to write, based on your 30 years under psychiatric drugs. It shall be bitter and brilliant. It shall be vindictive, without a shred of remorse, yet you shall tell a tale in shimmering prose, in language of darkness and light.

But above all, the light.

Medicalised psychiatry is a failed entity. And let us go toward a new day, a new hope. We think here of a spirit of grace and renewal.

That we should propose, and seek the following:

“Toward the removal of drugs from Mental Health services by 2030”.

This is our emancipation, our freedom song.

Abolish the drugs, period.

We are abolitionists. Let the great work, the work of moral suasion begin.

We are abolitionists. We shall prevail.

Above all, the light.  

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Kieran Staunton is a psychiatry survivor from Galway, Ireland. He entered the mental health system in the 1980’s and spent the greater part of 30 years on various psycho drugs for treatment for depression. He withdrew from drugs in 2014 and spent the next nine years in a dystopian withdrawl hell. He hopes to turn his experience into a novel – a sort of Trainspotting for prescription psycho- drugs! He has a degree in English, Sociology and Politics from the University of Galway. He is also mad and angry as hell about the mental health system in Ireland, and indeed globally. He believes that we should take affirmative action on this issue, without remorse. To borrow a phrase “be radical or redundant”.